Saturday | June 25, 2016
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Roth promises new look at county cold cases

After 14 years as a Hawaii County deputy prosecutor and five years as a deputy prosecutor for the City and County of Honolulu, Mitch Roth says he’s ready for Hawaii County’s top prosecutorial position.

Roth, 48, values a proactive approach rather than a reactive approach to prosecuting, and he points to his effort establishing a community-oriented prosecution plan for the county as an example of how it works.

Among his successes are closing down drug houses, which he said has had the effect of curtailing robberies and thefts in downtown Hilo, and setting up a “Shattered Dreams” anti-drunk driving program at Kealakehe High School that brought DUI fatalities down from eight over the past five years to zero since the 2010-11 school year.

“Preventing that stuff to me is not just a job, it’s a calling,” Roth said.

There are several cold cases in the Prosecutor’s Office that Roth said should be “looked at with new eyes.” Among them is the Peter Boy Kema case. The 6-year-old disappeared in 1997 after his father claimed to have taken him to Oahu and left him with an aunt.

“I know there are cases where we have been able to go back and we have been able to get convictions,” Roth said.

Noting that “justice delayed is justice denied,” Roth said the office needs to be more aggressive charging cases. There’s an ethical imperative to not charge a case until there is evidence beyond a reasonable doubt, but Roth said sometimes prosecutors are reluctant to charge a case unless they’re guaranteed to get a conviction.

“We need to get cases charged a lot quicker,” Roth said.

He pointed to his recent success with the case of Ted Braxton, a 22-year-old University of Hawaii at Hilo student who was struck and killed while riding a moped on Kinoole Street and dragged 100 feet by a drunk driver in an armored van. The driver, Keolaokalani W. Kailianu, who had a blood-alcohol level more than three times the legal limit, was sentenced to 10 years in prison. The case was charged and a conviction obtained in just seven months, compared to the two or three years such cases typically take, he said.

Limited prison space and limited resources mean the Prosecutor’s Office needs to “think smarter, not just tougher,” he said. Preventing crimes cuts the number of tragic deaths, and leaves prison space for serious offenders. An example is the use of ignition interlock systems to prevent driving under the influence, he said.

“Our job is to improve the quality of life and protect public safety and health through effective prosecutorial strategies,” Roth said.